A burst of enforcement action in the past fortnight raised hopes of crackdown against notorious Ponzi and MLM schemes
Ahuge burst of long overdue enforcement activity in the past fortnight raises hopes, for the first time, of some check on the mushrooming of dubious ponzi schemes, direct selling companies, collective investment schemes (CIS) and pseudo-chit funds. Consider this.
• On 22nd November, the Supreme Court, finally, clamped down on the personal freedom of Subrata Roy, founder of the strange Sahara group and barred him from travelling abroad or alienating assets.
• On the very same day, Mumbai’s Economic Offences Wing (EOW) arrested eight agents of QNet, a controversial, Hong Kong-based multi-level marketing (MLM) company promoted by a Malaysian. The police have already frozen the bank accounts of these ‘team leaders’.
• On 23rd November, Kunal Ghosh, a suspended member of parliament (MP) of the Trinamool Congress, was arrested for colluding and conspiring with Sudipta Sen, founder of the Saradha group which went bust and took down a few thousand crores of savings of poor and low-income people.
• On 28th November, Malabar Gold and Diamonds, the rapidly expanding jewellery chain from Kerala, was raided by officials of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) at Kozhikode. According to a report in The Hindu, the raid followed a statement from one of the accused involved in smuggling gold from the Gulf and selling it to the jewellery group. The group’s turnover has reportedly grown from Rs50 lakh to Rs22,000 crore in just 20 years!
• On 2nd December, the EOW, Mumbai, nabbed the alleged mastermind of SpeakAsia, Ram Niwas Pal, who has fraudulent cornered over Rs300 crore, according to the police. Moneylife was the first to report about this brazen and high-profile ponzi which went bust in October 2010 taking down over Rs2,000 crore belonging to 230,000 people. The key promoters of this Singapore-registered company are still absconding; nor have they been made to return the Rs900+ crore transferred to Singapore alone.
Some of the credit for this flurry of activity by other enforcement agencies probably goes to the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) which has used its recently acquired powers to crack down on a series of CIS including teak tree investment schemes and a time-share called Orient Resorts. It has also ordered the freezing of assets worth over Rs500 crore of companies involved in various irregularities. Clearly, regulatory overlap leads to better enforcement and action, if one of the regulators/agencies is willing to act decisively. A similar rush of activity is evident on the National Spot Exchange Limited (NSEL) scam where, again, Mumbai’s EOW is leading the crackdown and attachment of properties, rather than any independent regulator.
But we have a long way to go before we even make a dent in the explosion of Internet-based scams and tricks (work-at-home scams, insurance scams, job scams, lost wallet scams, Nigerian scams) that are sucking up the savings of gullible people everyday. Topping the list are get-rich schemes targeting housewives and people laid-off from work which lure their victims promising high earnings from home-based work. Often, these are variations of the SpeakAsia survey fraud and would correctly be the domain of the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO). But SFIO is one agency that remains somnolent even after the new Companies Act 2013 has hugely enhanced its powers; it lists SpeakAsia and QNet as ongoing investigations with very little action.
Bharti Aritel and Reliance Jio will utilise each other’s infrastructure to provide better quality of services
Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (Reliance Jio), a subsidiary of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), and Bharti Airtel Ltd (Bharti) has decided to share each other’s telecom infrastructure. No financial details were provided, except the companies said the pricing would be at arm’s length, based on the prevailing market rates.
Under this arrangement, both companies will share infrastructure, including optic fibre network (inter and intra city), submarine cable networks, towers and internet broadband services.
“The cooperation is aimed to avoid duplication of infrastructure, wherever possible, and to preserve capital and the environment. This will also provide redundancy in order to ensure seamless services to customers of the respective parties,” the companies said in a joint statement.
The arrangement, in future, could be extended to roaming on 2G, 3G and 4G, and any other mutually benefiting areas relating to telecommunication including but not limited to jointly laying optic fibre or other forms of infrastructure services, Reliance Jio said.
As part of this arrangement, Bharti and Reliance Jio have already announced an agreement under which Bharti has provided capacity on its i2i submarine cable to Reliance Jio.
On Tuesday, Bharti Airtel closed Rs1.35 down at Rs335.35 on BSE, while benchmark BSE Sensex closed marginally down at 21,255.
The draft guidelines for the new power regulatory regime and price has been formulated by CERC and it is expected to hit NTPC the worst
National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd (NTPC) share crashed 11.26% Tuesday on BSE following news of new draft guidelines issued by Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC), which may make it tougher for power producers to earn healthy profits.
As per the draft guidelines, the new regulatory regime is expected to commence from 1 April 2014 and will extend to 31 March 2019. In the new guidelines, the method of calculating incentives is the same—return on equity method—but tightening has been done in other areas, particularly in the taxation and expenses front. This is seen as harsh and is likely to affect the profitability and operations of power plants over the next five years. Other power companies like Power Grid Corp (Power Grid) is also expected to be hit by the new norms. Share price of Power Grid was seen down 3% and Neyvelli Lignite Corporation closed down 1.29%.
As per the draft guidelines released by CERC, the post tax return on equity (RoE) has been maintained at 15.5%, but the incentive structure has been linked to actual generation (PLF) beyond the threshold level of 85%. This number has been pegged 50 paisa/kWh for “ex-bus scheduled energy corresponding to scheduled generation in excess of ex-bus energy corresponding to Normative Annual Plant Load Factor (NAPLF).” This means, producers like NTPC, have to crank out power with a high load factor to make returns worthwhile, regardless of the expenses (such as import of coal from abroad).
The new regime is expected to benefit end consumers (read: other big power companies, large corporations to who buy power from NTPC and Power Grid). Previously, power generating companies like NTPC, Damodar Valley Corporation and NEEPCO were previously “grossing up” their tax liabilities and claiming it from end consumers. However, as per new regulatory guidelines, they will have to claim only on the ‘actual tax paid’. This will reduce margins for companies like NTPC and Power Grid. Edelweiss Securities in a research report said, “We believe the new norms have been framed by tightening operating rules to ensure end consumer benefits from higher efficiency in the system.”
The scope of this regulation is only applicable to companies or power stations where tariff is decided by the CERC. Private players who have sought tariffs through competitive bidding have been excluded from this regulation as are renewable energy companies. The draft regulation states the scope: “where tariff of a generating station or a unit thereof and a transmission system or an element thereof including communication system used for inter-State transmission of electricity is required to be determined by the Commission under section 62 of the Act read with section 79 thereof.”
Edelweiss expects NTPC to be affected badly and sees the company generating 9% RoE instead of the 24% it has been generating so far. The report said, “NTPC, which has historically earned higher RoE (over base rate of 15.5%) of 24% plus via incentives, operational efficiency and tax benefits (we estimate about 9% under existing norms), will likely see pressure on profitability/RoE impacting valuations.”
On Power Grid, Edelweiss says it will be marginally affected. “Tighter operational norms will also impact Power Grid, we estimate it to be limited since RoE of approx 16.5%-17.0% (over base RoE of 15.5%) has marginal contribution from incentives,” the report said.
The CERC has called for views and recommendations from stakeholders and there could be modifications to the guidelines before 31 March 2014. Even if the new norms are enforced, it remains to be seen how companies like NTPC and Power Grid Corporation will be able to recover tariffs as many power companies and power utilities are cutting down on expenses due to the paralysis in the power sector and lack of government initiative to get it off the ground.
NTPC closed Tuesday 11.26% down at Rs136, while Power Grid Corp and Neyveli Lignite ended the day 3% and 1.5% down at Rs98.3 and Rs61.2, respectively on the BSE. The 30-share Sensex also ended the day marginally down at 21,255.